Design Thinking at Fortune Brainstorm Tech International 2017

  • January 9, 2018
  • Scott
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Design Thinking

Another panel was held to discuss design thinking and its impact on China and Chinese startups.  Clay Chandler of Time Inc. moderated a discussion with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted and Charles Hayes of IDEO Shanghai.  I liked the framing: Design thinking is about places, spaces, and processes – it’s about anything that involves complexity: your packaging, your logo, your product, your customer experience.  Following is a summary of my notes from the session.

There was also an interesting sidebar about globalization: that the early global companies were leveraging monopolizing the supply chain or distribution network – or huge amounts of capital – in order to create lasting competitive advantage.  But in today’s digitizing world, those advantages are getting commoditized.  There’s vastly more capital available to startups, and both supply chains and distribution networks are more accessible to startups and consumers as well.

So the current advantage we need to seek in the market is directly at the point of connection to our clients and customers.

The focus on operational efficiency in the industrial revolution was all about mass production and consistency – and getting unit costs down.  Sometimes there was higher quality as well – but only if it was consistent with a great scale or volume.

But now we are creating a tremendous amount of data and disruption of products and services – data trails on everything, insights, competitors, tech. It’s a formidable landscape for thinking about how to navigate the new world order – which might just be chaos.

Design thinking helps put that chaotic situation in order by putting hte needs of humans at the center of the methodology and following through with ideation, prototyping and innovation around the human needs and challenges.

This whole design-thinking wave is creating a shift in organizations and how they think about going to market.  They are adding creative competitiveness to their ideas.

Mr. Antonio discussed the production of high quality pre-crafted (not fabricated!) homes and buildings.  The idea is to increase speed – a home built in 60-90 days instead of up to 2 years for example – while achieving price points that are unheard of (for small homes, as little as $19k).  He wants to work with only the best designers, and create a global brand – and create scale through automation.

I have to admit he creates an air of inevitability about this concept and his ability to execute it. It’s pretty fascinating.

The question was asked to these two executives, how is “created in china” going?  DJI was a prominent example of how it is going really well.  They’re the leader in drones, and design of them.  But the two executives state that the leadership in creation and design isn’t linear progression – in some areas it is going fabulous and in other areas still trailing behind.  The phrase “many Chinas” was used to describe these differences.  Lots of digital native companies are coming up and putting design in the center of what they do.  The entire economy appears to be shifting toward innovation and entrepreneurship as engines of new growth.

What is the role of the CEO in this transition?  Charles’ answer was “the CEO is the guy who asks really good questions”.

Both executives admit that CEOs can be too hands-on – especially at design-driven companies.  Of course if you follow consumer trends in China and Asia, it shouldn’t be a surprise that design is jumping from consumer to tech to business.  It is clearly part of the culture when it is isn’t overly constrained by contextual factors.

 

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